By Gary Van Sickle
January 20, 2005

The following is free advice, which you can choose to follow, ignore or wash down with a Corona Light or an adult beverage of your choice:

• Three jobs I don't want are: professional paparazzi, shark-repellent tester and U.S. Ryder Cup captain. The latter, following a frequently uninformed media's bashing of captain Hal Sutton for his role in leading the American team to a Ryder Cup nosedive and its most embarrassing defeat in half a century, suddenly looks a lot less appealing.

Who needs this kind of aggravation? Sutton was the roastee at a second-guessers' convention when the real culprits were American players who couldn't hit the first fairway at Oakland Hills, much less beat a formidable, in-form European team. There is reason for concern, my fellow Americans. The Euros are newly loaded with young talent -- don't forget, Justin Rose didn't make this team and neither did Fredrik Jacobson or Thomas Bjorn, to name a few.

Where are our young guns? We don't have squat, Jack. We don't even have the best Howell, apparently. Europe's David was a team star. America's Charles couldn't outpoint Fred Funk, Kenny Perry or Jay Haas to make our lineup.

The Ryder Cup captaincy has always been a great honor and it still is, but it's looking like a no-win situation. If I'm Paul Azinger, the most logical pick to get the job next, I'm thinking, who needs to go over to Ireland (where the tabloid boys have always had a thing for me ever since my two Ryder Cup dust-ups with Seve Ballesteros), face a hostile crowd, get beat and then take all the blame?

• Larry Nelson may turn out to be the dark-horse front-runner for the Ryder Cup captain's job in 2006 for two reasons. One, he inexplicably got passed over for the job in 1997 when, he says, he had been all but assured by the PGA of America that it was his ... up until it was suddenly awarded to Tom Kite. Two, Nelson still isn't in the World Golf Hall of Fame, also inexplicably. Ben Crenshaw's success with the '99 team was no doubt a springboard of attention that hastened his election and a Ryder Cup win might bring the overlooked Nelson back into the thoughts of the Hall voters. On the other hand, being Ryder Cup captain didn't help Lanny Wadkins, who, like Nelson, should have made the Hall before Crenshaw, or Curtis Strange, who ought to be in the Hall if Kite and Payne Stewart are in.

Nelson is a nice guy who deserves the honor of the captaincy ... but who also deserves a better team.

• Speaking of that, the PGA of America needs to change its selection process now. The U.S. got caught with a stale team of too many players who qualified for the squad based on what they'd done in 2003, not 2004 -- notably Kenny Perry, Davis Love, Jim Furyk and David Toms.

American players earn points for top-10 finishes over two years leading up to the Ryder Cup. Forget that. With foreigners beginning to dominate the U.S. tour, too often that means only two or three Americans rack up Ryder Cup points. That's hardly a way to figure out who the best players are. Make it a one-year selection process and lose the top-10 point system. Instead, add the Official World Ranking points earned, which are weighted for strength of field. I know, you hate to justify the flawed world rankings even more than we already do. So here's a better idea: Make the captain earn his charity money and let him pick all 12 players. Now that would be a selection show worth watching.

• While Tiger Woods has done some not-very-subtle lobbying for his buddy, Mark O'Meara, to get the next captain's job, I just don't see it. O'Meara was a solid, steady player who wasn't a factor in major championships until 1998, when he suddenly won a pair. He is nearly as well known for being Tiger's pal and confidante. During his heyday, O'Meara was pretty blunt about his Ryder Cup feelings (or lack thereof) and it's obvious his weak enthusiasm for the event rubbed off on his protégé, poisoning his Ryder Cup view.

O'Meara's stand about players getting a piece of the suddenly huge Ryder Cup profits, which became a flashpoint in '99, was gutsy and, pardon the pun, right on the money. That shouldn't be held against him. Now, however, he's seen as a guy who maybe could finally bring out the best in Tiger in the Ryder Cup. It wouldn't hurt O'Meara's own profile, since he, also, isn't in the Hall of Fame and would like to slice himself a piece of history now that his best years are behind him.

But let's not forget that O'Meara may have done his own version of a Chris Riley in the 1991 Ryder Cup, won by the Americans only after Bernhard Langer missed that famous putt. After teaming with Paul Azinger in foursomes play on Saturday morning and blitzing Nick Faldo and David Gilford by a 7 and 6 margin, O'Meara sat himself down for the afternoon matches, saying his back was bothering him. One annoyed Ryder Cup teammate told me weeks later, "His back wasn't bothering him. He just didn't want to play." True or false, O'Meara has never been a Ryder Cup spear-carrier, but now that it's convenient, should he be captain? He'd probably be pretty good at it, actually, but I don't think it will happen.

• Exposure isn't everything. I'm sure those Thursday and Friday PGA Tour telecasts seemed like a good idea at the time. What could be better than blanket, wire-to-wire TV coverage of a PGA Tour tournament? Sorry, it's too much of a good thing. There have been exceptions, such as when Tiger, or Phil Mickelson, or Vijay Singh went deep in an early round, or any early round of a major championship, but most weeks the Thursday and Friday telecasts are just plain bad. There is no story to tell, no conclusion reached and frequently no one on the leaderboard by the time the telecast begins. The only thing worse than no story to tell is no storyteller to tell it. Some top commentators aren't available for the weekday shows (usually seen on affiliate networks). Without Johnny Miller, NBC's team is Roger Maltbie and a lot of noise. Without Mike Tirico, ABC's voices are too loud or too bland and often out of balance. Thursday in Greensboro or Friday at the Valero Open looks an awful lot like the Nationwide Tour on The Golf Channel.

• A great venue for the Ryder Cup that will never host it (besides the obvious, Pine Valley) is the Stadium Course at Sawgrass. It made for great match-play theatrics when Tiger won the U.S. Amateur there and its finishing holes would make for dramatic golf. Since it's owned by the PGA Tour and the Ryder Cup is owned by the PGA of America, however, Paris Hilton will win an Oscar before the Stadium Course gets a Ryder Cup.

• I wouldn't be surprised to see less golf on television in the future. The economics of golf have changed so much that the PGA Tour is close to pricing itself out of the market. Networks put up with weak ratings for golf because its advertising demographics are good -- wealthy men over 40 -- and because it always was profitable. Now the tour has chopped up the TV package and purses have been raised so high that the networks are losing money. Look for one or two TV players to bail out of golf completely when the next deal is done sometime in 2005 ... which can only be good news for The Golf Channel.

• The PGA Tour hasn't lost a lawsuit in a while, so it seems determined to get back in the groove by banning carts on the Champions Tour next year. Most senior players oppose it, but the tour's new boss, Rick George, plans to forge ahead. He thinks the no-cart look will make the tour a more attractive product. He might be right, but only in the sense that it may weed out some non-competitive older players (who may happen to be recognizable names) and open spots for younger, competitive pros (who may not have recognizable names).

It's time for the seniors to switch from a nostalgia tour to a competitive tour, but that won't happen because the rank-and-file seniors riding this gravy train are deathly afraid of competition. (Sorry -- never say "deathly" around seniors.) The no-cart rule isn't going to fly, however. Some player will take the tour to court and, based on the tour's long history of allowing carts, probably win.

I don't know any senior golf fans who care whether the geezers ride. It's just not an issue. So here's the easy solution: Allow carts and expand the no-cut fields to 90 or 96 from the current 78. That would open more spots for Q-school, more spots for Monday qualifying and more spots for guys who can still play. Also, add a provision similar to what the PGA Tour has -- a player who has a top-10 finish is exempted into the next event. Currently, you can't play your way onto the senior circuit unless you win. It's a closed shop and now, finally, it needs to open up. And then one of you readers can wire me $75 grand to sponsor my attempt to crack the circuit (mostly it'll go for lessons with Butch Harmon). Uh, don't expect a big return on your investment.

• By the way, the good news is that the senior circuit scored big with its new event at Pebble Beach that featured seniors paired with junior players. The bad news is, with Pebble as a backdrop, it looked more like a major championship than at least three of the tour's major championships.

As they say in poker, I'm all in. Pass the Corona, please.

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